Thursday, 25 March 2010

Favourite Places...

I had a lovely day in Oxford yesterday with the students of JCC. We were there on a study visit to The Pitt Rivers Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the newly refurbished Ashmolean Museum, Britain’s first museum. I’ve visited some of the finest galleries and museums in the world, but these still remain some of my favourite places to enjoy and study art and culture. The Pitt Rivers Museum is truly inspirational both in the uniqueness of it’s displays and the sheer dense abundance of weird and wonderful cultural artefacts. It’s a great place to sit and draw, and I’ve made lots of sketchbook drawings on my many visits over the years. Here’s a few of the macabre and fantastical human skulls and some of the many masks, whose very individual characters always intrigue and make me smile.

I find something new to marvel at on each visit. Yesterday I was inspired by some of the exotic jewellery on display: a necklace made of sperm whale teeth; another made of a snake’s invertebrae; exquisite miniature carvings in bone and ivory of whales and polar bears made by Eskimos…it was mind-boggling. Who needs contemporary art with its ‘sculptures’ made of sellotape and cardboard?
Vase With Winter Landscape, Japan, c.1910

The New Ashmolean was brilliant too. It has one of the finest collections of Eastern Art in the Country, where I could spend all day amongst the Chinese and Japanese Paintings and Ceramics. My ceramicist friend, Pat has turned me onto the ceramics of the Song Dynasty, which are some of his favourites and now mine. This vase above isn’t an example of this period, it is a more modern piece, but I loved this one yesterday.

The River, 90 x 120cms, 2003

Like many painters, many of own Nature paintings have been influenced by Eastern Art. This older painting above,‘The River’ seems pretty explicit in it’s debt to Japanese landscapes, which I looked at quite when I made it. I’d like to think this more recent piece, Wild Flowers’ though has taken these influences into something more my own I hope. When I made it I wasn’t thinking of these influences at all really, I just made what I felt needed to be made.

'Wild Flowers, 100 x 150cms, 2009

It was when looking at the Chinese Paintings yesterday that I realised that perhaps these influences had become more part of my subconscious thinking after many years of enjoying this wonderful art. It's only an hour and a half from Birmingham...get yourself down there!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

In It To Win It...

I’ve had a painting ('Bernard' above) ‘selected’ for this year’s Worcester Open 2010. I say selected with ‘ ‘ as basically if you pay your money and send an image you will be in the show. It is however, in two parts; a properly selected show at the Worcester Museum and Art Gallery (the winners!) and everyone else in a ‘salon’ type show at The Pitt Studio, an artists-run project in the city (the losers!). I’m one of the losers at The Pitt Studio.

I’m being a bit naughty saying that I know, and I only write in jest. It is the philosophy of Nathan Pitt, director of the Pitt Studio for a more democratic approach to art exhibitions with a more encompassing idea of an Open Exhibition. I don’t share this philosophy though, as I think you have to be careful how you present your work. It might be fun, and exposure of the work should perhaps be something to be welcomed, but I don’t believe at any cost. I speak from experience. I once had a painting selected for the annual MidArt exhibition at Himley Hall. This show was selected by different artists/curators each year, and this year Andrew Logan, high camp artist extraordinaire, chose the work. He too had very democratic tastes, and I found myself in a terribly kitschy show with my own painting hung between a teenager’s painting of Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode fame, and a portrait of the Queen Mum! I shiver now at the memory of it all.
It’s funny looking back, but it did no favours to my own painting which looked dreadful in this context, and has made me wary of opportunities like these. But I’m going to send my painting along to the Worcester Open with a more open mind, as I think the Pitt Studio is a project that is trying to do something really good for artists in the region, and trust in their judgement.
I also got rejected from this year’s West Midlands Open 2010 at the Gas Hall, Birmingham. I was naturally disappointed but it’s just the way it goes. I’d been in the last two WM Opens so I can’t complain. I’ve since been in a couple of times to see the exhibition, and it seems a real mixed bag in terms of quality compared to other years. I couldn’t help feel cynical about the video piece that won first prize, as it was one of the few video works on display and seemed to belong more on Youtube than anywhere else. There were far more interesting and subtle pieces, including some really interesting drawings and prints. The painting was also disappointing, with none of my own favourite painters in the region like Barbara Walker, Graham Chorlton, and Rob Perry represented, whch was a surprise. At first I thought it was refreshing not to see these artists work, as it does feature heavily in many of the recent surveys of Birmingham-made art at the BMAG, but later I felt the quality of these painters' work was far stronger than many of the other selections in painting this year.
A piece that has remained in my memory was Elizabeth Lee’s knitted dog suit (below), whose work I’ve mentioned before. It was a really good combination of using materials with real wit and intelligence (in this case dog hair), with an underlying powerful message.

Dog Coat Coat (Disguise For A Dog on The Run), Elizabeth Lee

Finally, I’ve entered a painting for this year’s Liverpool John Moore’s Painting Prize Open Competition, the most prestigious and competitive painting prize in the country. Of all the competitions I’ve entered this year, this must be the one I’m least likely of getting a painting selected for, with thousands of painters entering. But, in the words of Jim Bowen, you’ve got to be in it to win it! I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, 8 March 2010

None More Black

‘In the American South a church group got us banned from performing in their town…so when their church was later set on fire they naturally blamed us, claiming that we had Lucifer as our manager and all sorts of nonsense(long pause)…the fact that we did actually have a manager called Lucifer, well….that’s a different story…’
Align Centre
Bill Ward, Black Sabbath

This and other stories had me laughing out loud as I enjoyed BBC Four’s excellent ‘Heavy Metal Britannia’ over the weekend. I’m not a heavy metal fan, and don’t own any heavy metal records at all, despite having a pretty large eclectic record collection. I have however, always had a genuine fondness for the guys that play in these bands and their fans. It might be a Midlands thing, as so many of these bands came from Birmingham and the Black Country, and still speak with thick regional accents despite years spent living in LA and elsewhere. This was illustrated on the programme by the likes of Rob Halford of Judas Priest, and Ozzy Osbourne,’ Geezer’ Butler and Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath, whose all too often hilarious stories of rock n roll excess I could listen to for hours. All delivered with a dry, deadpan wit again typical of the region.

When I was about 17, 18 I used to play bass guitar in a band in West Bromwich, and on Sundays we used to use the local rehearsal studios in Wednesbury (where the amps went up to 11). The studios were used by lots of local metal bands who were part of a scene in the area. With our lame indie rock, badly played, we used to look down at the metal heads, but they had skill and passion in abundance compared to us when I look back. They were great guys and seemed to revel in the outsider status that the metal fan will always have.

Stonehenge Monuments too big to get in concert halls; drunken dwarves falling off said monuments; a plaque delivered to a drunken bandmate to commemorate six months of being on the wagon. It’s easy to see that the makers of ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ didn’t have to look too far for inspiration. It’s one of my favourite films. Below are a couple of large paintings I made over ten years ago which were developed from photos of The Tap. They were made to be sort of romantic paintings, reminiscent of my Midlands roots. They were created with the same affection ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ has for its subject.

Air Potato,
oil on canvas, 210 x 150cms, 1999

Look at those spandex trousers! That’s a fancy bit of painting even if I do say so myself…

oil on canvas, 180 x 240cms, 1999

This record sleeve by Black Sabbath above is very reminiscent of Peter Doig’s paintings isn’t it? Do you think he’s a closet Metal Head?

Friday, 5 March 2010

Autumn to Winter...To Spring

If anyone follows this blog, you may remember last November that I said I was working on some new paintings loosely based around the theme 'Autumn to Winter'. Well, with the beautiful crocusses opening in my garden this week signalling the start of Spring, I thought I'd stop at this point and reflect and share the paintings I've since made.

It seems a good point to stop for a while. As you can see, the paintings are pretty varied as I've tried new things, seeking possible more coherent directions for the work. I've been most excited with the landscapes and still lives. The landscapes are not on as firm a footing as I would like though, and I've been painting quite a bit outdoors on small studies to try and address more successfully some of the things I think aren't working as well. It's all pretty new territory really, but I'm enjoying getting to grips with it. I'll try and share some of these studies soon too...Anyway, below are the seven paintings I've made over the last four months

oil on canvas, 90 x 60cms, 2009

oil on canvas, 120 x 100cms, 2009

Three Flowers,
oil on canvas, 150 x 120cms, 2009

oil on canvas, 90 x 60cms, 2010

Winter Painting,
oil on canvas, 90 x 110cms, 2010

Branches and Leaves
oil on canvas, 60 x 120cms
Stop Pause Rewind
oil on canvas, 102 x 142cms, 2010

I only did this last painting on Monday, but I think it's the most interesting one so far. I think it's certainly the most original (with originality not being one of my strong points). As ever comments are always welcome (just not very forthcoming!).